PITTSBURGH – On May 23, Pedro Alvarez hit a 429-foot home run off Matt Harvey in the 2nd inning of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 8-2 win over the New York Mets. Alvarez, who earlier in the week versus the Minnesota Twins hit a home run into a boat docked alongside the Allegheny River, faced a 96 mph pitch from Harvey, turning it back the other way at 107 mph.
Earlier in the month, Alvarez took a 97-mph pitch from Cardinals relief pitcher Sam Tuivailala into the right field seats, launching a 433-foot home run that came off the bat at 106 mph.
These numbers are significant because, through two months of the baseball season, Alvarez leads MLB on making contact with pitches that are at least 95 mph, that result in a distance traveled of at least 420 feet.
Needless to say, this is a very specific data set. For the season, Alvarez has seen 52 pitches of at least 95 mph, making contact on 10 of those pitches. Of those he has made contact with, two have traveled at least 420 feet.
If we take the distance traveled number down to 385 feet from 420 feet, we see Mike Napoli now jumps ahead as the MLB leader on making contact on pitches that are at least 95 mph, where the ball travels at least 385 feet.
This is interesting, so let’s explore a little further with similar, but different numbers.
When you look at batters who have faced (excluding contact for the moment) the most pitches that are at least 97 mph, results show six of the top 10 players in that category are Chicago Cubs.
Is this because pitchers take a different approach when facing the Cubs, throwing the gas at every chance they get?!?
Yes and no.
As it turns out, the Cubs – by virtue of playing in the NL Central, coupled with other parts of their schedule – have faced a high number of pitchers who love to throw the heat.
Cubs batters have had to face Pirates’ relief pitcher Arquimedes Caminero (April 20th), Cincinnati Reds reliver Aroldis Chapman (April 24th), Pirates’ starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (April 29th and May 16th), Mets starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard (May 12th) and Kansas City Royals starter Yordano Ventura (May 31) so far this year.
As we can see, that list is a who’s who of pitchers who can approach triple digits when they throw the ball. So invariably, they will lean toward throwing pitches that register high on the radar gun.
In terms of contact rate, poor Odubel Herrera of the Phillies has seen 29 pitches of at least 97 mph, making contact with only three (.103) and only putting one in play, a ground out to first in a game versus the Mets. Conversely, Starlin Castro of the Cubs has put seven of the 36 pitches of 97 mph or more in play (.194).
Ultimately, this sample seems more a case of schedule versus strategy – notice how NL Central rivals Khris Davis and Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers are also among the Top 10 – but should be interesting to follow as the season goes along.
Thanks to Baseball Savant for the interesting data